Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bad News From Iraq

The women are not faring well in all the upheaval. I was opposed to the Iraq invasion for many reasons, and especially for the reasons of avoiding unnecessary blood-letting, but the fate of the Iraqi women always weighed heavily on my mind. I believed that the most organized part of the society, that of religious fundamentalists, would take over, and I feared what would happen to the women who are not content with the rules of that type of religion.

The situation does not look good. In the south of Iraq:

In Basra, Iraq, religious extremists are waging a violent campaign against women who do not dress or behave according to their interpretation of Islam and doctors who provide medical services to women.

"They kill women, leave a piece of paper on her or dress her in indecent clothes so as to justify their horrible crimes," said Basra police chief Maj. Gen. Abdul Jalil Khalaf. Militants murdered 42 women between July and September, the BBC reported Nov. 15.

The same piece mentions violence against male gynecologists, in an attempt to make them stop practicing. The snag in that is that there are not enough women gynecologists. Thus, if the militants have their way, most women in Iraq will get no gynecological care. Sound familiar? This is the sort of thing the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, in the north of Iraq the Kurdish women aren't doing that well, either:

Ninety-seven women were burnt to death and 27 others killed in the three Kurdish provinces during the past four months, the human rights minister in the Iraqi Kurdistan region revealed.

"I cannot say that violence against women has lowered," Yusuf Aziz Muhammad told reporters after taking part in a conference held in Arbil on Sunday to discuss means to stop violence against women.
The statements coincide with the international day to eliminate violence against women, November 25.
"Surveys conducted in Arbil (the capital of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region) showed that there were 60 cases of women burning in Arbil, 21 in Duhuk and 16 in Sulaimaniya. There were also 10 cases of women killing in Arbil, 11 in Duhuk and six in Sulaimaniya," Muhammad said.
The Kurdish official, citing the figures of 2005, noted that there were 59 cases of women killing in the region, which rose to 118 in 2006.
"Cases of women burning themselves in Sulaimaniya during 2006 were 64 and in Duhuk 185," said the minister.
Women proved involved in honor-related crimes are forced to burn themselves and sometimes they are set ablaze by their male relatives.

That article notes one of the reasons for all this violence: contempt towards women and their role in the family and society. You can twist yourself into a pretzel trying to reconcile that contempt with the simultaneous push in Basra to make women act according to the most limited roles possible. But misogyny has never been bothered by its own illogicality.

And what of the response from the West to news like these? Some fear that even talking about them foments war against Iran or some other suitable country, despite the obvious futility of war as a weapon for democratizing a country. If anything, things have gotten worse for Iraqi women since the U.S. invasion, and I don't quite see how it would help women in any of the countries where women are not much valued if they or their family members were first killed by U.S. bombs.

Others turn suddenly all relative in their ethical judgments when otherwise they would not do so, and point out that we shouldn't judge what other cultures do. I wonder if they would have the same reaction should we be reading about the burning of children or if the corpses in Basra all belonged to members of a religious minority.

No, it is something about the victims being women that causes the "look elsewhere" syndrome. Because deep down, somewhere, many of us still believe that the women belong to their husbands, fathers, families and their societies, to treat as those parties see fit.